Feature

Student Vote

Johanna Brand

They were deeply involved in the federal election. They met the candidates. They researched party platforms and positions. They argued and debated. Then they organized an election and voted. But, though they probably know more about each party’s position on the environment than most of us, their vote did not affect the election outcome.

Nevertheless the kids in Christina Huang’s grade 5 class at Finch Public School thought the whole thing was “a good experience.” The class took part in the parallel election coordinated by Student Vote Canada, an organization dedicated to “building students into citizens, one vote at a time.” The organization provides teacher resources for this hands-on activity, including curriculum resources for elementary students. It distributes to all Ontario schools You Choose, the curriculum ETFO created in 2004. (See curriculum insert.)

Huang’s students ran a full election. She divided her class into four groups, one for each major national party. The students campaigned for their party. And they learned how to run an election, serving as returning officers, poll clerks, and scrutineers.

“I was surprised about how much there is to learn and about how much thought and focus goes into the party’s platform,” said Sergey Sapelnyk. For Christina Huang, having her class take part made natural sense. Huang herself grew up in a political family but the effect was to make her “resist active involvement in politics.” Until, that is, she took part in the Teachers’ Institute on Parliamentary Democracy, which “was amazing, the best professional development I’ve ever had.” Each November the program brings together 70 Canadian teachers for a week on Parliament Hill.1 

The student vote election got Huang’s class equally excited. During their campaign three of the four candidates in the Willowdale riding – Jim Peterson (Liberal), Rochelle Carnegie (NDP), and Sharolyn Vettese (Green Party) – took time to visit the school and answer questions about their positions. This was a highlight that taught students about the power of personality and personal contact.

“I changed my mind after seeing each candidate,” said Annie Shi. “When someone comes in you are sympathetic to them, until you see the next person.” She was not alone. “At the beginning I thought the Conservative Party would be the most suitable for me,” said Ross London. “But after I met the Green Party I decided it was more suitable.” The debate didn’t stop when students left the class. Dinner table arguments were common. “We disagreed a lot,” said Annie Shi. “In the end my parents said you make your own decision.”

The project could well have lasting impact for these students. According to the Canadian Council on Learning, these students will be more likely to vote when they grow up. In its paper  Falling Voter Turnout: Is It Linked to Diminished Civics Education?

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